OPEN APP
Home / News / India /  Measuring Gandhi’s relevance in the digital age

On streets, currency notes and government office walls, Mahatma Gandhi is everywhere in India. But beyond these tributes and the annual Gandhi Jayanti celebrations, how relevant is Gandhi and his philosophy in modern India?

Numbers may not entirely do justice to the depth of Gandhi’s legacy, but one aspect of his relevance is quantifiable: Interest in the man himself. Are Indians losing interest in Gandhi and his work? Data from the internet suggests a resounding no—Gandhi remains very popular in India and the world.

Tracking interest in a historical figure over time is tricky, but data from the internet provides rough proxies. Across the world, search data from Google has emerged as a popular tool to measure interest in different topics. In India especially, where internet access is growing, Google data can be a useful tool to understand what Indians care about.

Examining Google search data since 2004 (the earliest date for which Google search data is available) suggests that Gandhi’s relevance is far from waning. Over the last 15 years, search interest in Gandhi has been fairly consistent, with regular, annual peaks around his birth anniversary. Last year’s Gandhi Jayanti, for instance, registered the highest search interest over the last 15 years. Search on Gandhi also far outweighs his political contemporaries. Average search interest in Gandhi is around 2.5 times more than search interest in Jawaharlal Nehru, his ideological ally, and B.R. Ambedkar, his ideological rival.

Search interest is measured on a scale of 0 to 100 indicating the greatest search interest during that period. Data till 30 September 2019
View Full Image
Search interest is measured on a scale of 0 to 100 indicating the greatest search interest during that period. Data till 30 September 2019

Gandhi’s popularity also exceeds some modern-day political leaders. For instance, over the last five years, more people have searched for the Mahatma than Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, and Arvind Kejriwal (unsurprisingly, searches for Prime Minister Narendra Modi far exceed searches for Gandhi). Even many current Bollywood actors do not match the interest in Gandhi. Since 2004, more people have searched for Gandhi than Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan, though searches for Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan exceed that for Gandhi.

Search interest is measured on a scale of 0 to 100 indicating the greatest search interest during that period. Data till 30 September 2019
View Full Image
Search interest is measured on a scale of 0 to 100 indicating the greatest search interest during that period. Data till 30 September 2019

Gandhi is googled across India, but search interest is especially strong in the North-East. After adjusting for search volumes, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Nagaland have searched for Gandhi the most over the last 15 years. In contrast, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka have, relatively, the least interest in Gandhi. Among independent India’s foremost leaders, Gandhi is searched most in all states, barring Maharashtra, where searches for Ambedkar trump that for Gandhi.

Even globally, search interest in Mahatma Gandhi does not seem to be waning. Outside India, Gandhi is searched for the most in Nepal, Bolivia, and India’s diaspora hotspot: West Asia (Oman, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar). All these countries search for Gandhi around twice as often than in neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Of the iconic leaders of Gandhi’s era—Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler—Gandhi has been searched more than everyone other than Hitler over the last 15 years.

Search interest is measured on a scale of 0 to 100 indicating the greatest search interest during that period. Data till 30 September 2019
View Full Image
Search interest is measured on a scale of 0 to 100 indicating the greatest search interest during that period. Data till 30 September 2019

One reason for Gandhi’s enduring popularity is that his philosophy lives on through other leaders. Few have been influenced more by Gandhi than Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela. Between these three giants, King attracts the greatest global search interest—largely driven by searches from the US—followed by Gandhi.

When people search for Gandhi, many of them are searching for his quotes. Gandhi was a prolific writer, authoring 26 books, but many of his principles are captured in memorable quotes.

Searches for these quotes are among the top Gandhi-related queries on Google. One assessment of the enduring power of Gandhi’s quotes comes from Goodreads, an online portal dedicated to books. On Goodreads, 90 million members regularly review both fiction and non-fiction books, which includes highlighting their favourite quotes.

Among all these quotes, Gandhi’s feature prominently. For instance, the quote, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world", which is widely attributed to Gandhi and a paraphrasing of a 1913 essay he wrote, is the 11th most popular quote on the site with more than 100,000 likes.

Though the origins of many of Gandhi’s most famous quotes remain unverifiable, the fact that so many quotes continue to be attributed to him could be seen as another measure of his popularity.

Internet users are also reading up more about Gandhi than most other world leaders, according to data from Wikipedia. With around 20 billion site views every month, Wikipedia is often the first port of call for any internet user to learn more about a topic.

With nearly 45,000 words of content, Gandhi’s Wikipedia page provides a comprehensive overview of his life, philosophy and legacy. Since 2015 (when Wikipedia page statistics became available), this page has been visited more than 30 million times at a monthly average of 606,000 page views, and has been fairly steady over the last few years. This average is more than that of pages for Nehru, King, and Mandela.

Search interest is measured on a scale of 0 to 100 indicating the greatest search interest during that period. Data till 30 September 2019
View Full Image
Search interest is measured on a scale of 0 to 100 indicating the greatest search interest during that period. Data till 30 September 2019

Interest in Gandhi extends beyond just the casual internet user. Even in academia, Gandhi seems to be relevant. For instance, searching Mahatma Gandhi on Google Scholar, the popular search engine for academic publications, yields 119,000 books and articles that refer to Gandhi with 17,000 of these publications published since 2015.

At the UN last week, Modi urged the world to imbibe Gandhi’s philosophy. “As long as thoughts of Gandhiji continue to be a significant part of humanity, his inspiration and relevance will also remain among us," he said. At least among internet users in India and the world, Gandhi’s relevance seems to be as strong as ever.

Subscribe to Mint Newsletters
* Enter a valid email
* Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.

Never miss a story! Stay connected and informed with Mint. Download our App Now!!

Close
×
Edit Profile
My ReadsRedeem a Gift CardLogout